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Last week, Public Knowledge signed a public release together with other organizations from the Americas on the limitations to fundamental rights online in Venezuela. We are following the developments in that country closely.
You can view the Spanish-language release here. Here is the English translation:
On the limitations to fundamental rights online as a consequence of the state of exception in Venezuela
The past 16th of May, the Venezuelan Government issued the Executive Order 2489, that extends the emergency status in Venezuela, ongoing since May 2016. This new extension authorizes Internet policing and content filtering. This measure deepens even more the restrictions to the free flow of information online, that recently has included the blocking of streaming news outlets, such as VivoPlay, VPITV, and CapitolioTV. Other serious tendencies prevailing in Venezuela are the aggressions of military and police personnel to journalists and civilian reporters, and the detention of citizens in the wake of content published in social networks.
This happens in a context of a general deterioration of telecommunications, as a consequence of divestment in the sector for the last 10 years, which has made Venezuela the Latin American country with the worst internet connection quality. Nevertheless, given the censorship faced by traditional media, Internet is also the indispensable tool for freedom of expression and access to information for Venezuelans.
The measures taken by the Venezuelan Government to restrict online content constitute restrictions to the fundamental rights of Venezuelan citizens and, as such, do not comply with the minimum requirements of proportionality, legality, and suitability. The Venezuelan Government has systematically ignored civil society requests of the total number of blocked websites; to this date, there is evidence of the blocking of 41 websites, but it is suspected that many more websites are being blocked. The legal and technical processes to determine and execute website blocking are unknown.
These kind of practices affect the exercise of human rights. In a joint release, the freedom of expression rapporteurs of the UN and the IACHR condemned “censorship and blocking of information both in traditional media and on the internet”. During the last months, three streaming tv providers were blocked without a previous court order. Moreover, the Government has used unregulated surveillance technologies that affect the fundamental rights of citizens, such as surveillance drones to track and watch demonstrators, while at the same time expanding its internet surveillance prerogatives, through the creation of bodies such as CESPPA.
In addition mechanisms for the collection of biometric data have been implemented, without citizens being able to determine their purpose nor who has access to such information. The official discourse towards the Internet, and specifically to social networks, is disturbing: the director of the National Telecommunications Commission has recently declared that social networks are “dangerous” and a tool for “non-conventional war” in Venezuela.
The sum of this factors, aggravated by the passage of time and the deepening of the social and political crisis, outlines the creation of a state of censorship, control, and surveillance that gravely affects citizen exercise of human rights. The access to a free internet, neutral and of quality, has been internationally recognized as a necessary condition for the exercise of freedom expression, communications and the access to information, and as a precondition of the existence of a democratic society. In that regard, the undersigned organizations, part of the civil and academic society of the region, set our position in the following terms:
- We express our condemnation to the extension of the state of exception in Venezuela, as well as the restrictions that from this derives to the free flow of online content.
- We manifestate our concern to the growing deterioration of internet access infrastructure and telecommunications in Venezuela, which maintenance is of a vital importance for the education, innovation, and the communication of Venezuelans.
- We emphasize that the use and implementation of technological tools such as drones and biometric identification systems must fit human rights standards and not affect the fundamental freedoms of citizens, in particular their privacy and autonomy.
- We insist that all measures that restrict the free exercise of fundamental rights, such as the blocking of web pages, must comply with the minimum requisites of proportionality, legality and idoneity, and in consequence, must be only adopted by judicial authorities following the due process.
- We request the end harassing actions and insulting speech by public servants online, against NGOs and human rights activists, that document and denounce acts through digital platforms.
- We demand the cessation of military and policy bodies against journalists and citizen reporters.
- We request transparency on the actions taken to restrict internet traffic and content, and request that an answer to the requests for public information made by civil society regarding the practices of content blocking and filtering are carried about by the public administration.
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Acceso Libre (Venezuela)
Universidad de los Andes (Venezuela)